We have all been around long enough to know that the internet is filled with a lot of great information. We also know that a lot of that great information is wrong. Some of that information is that oops-we-goofed type of info like wrong dates for TV episodes on Wikipedia. Other wrong information can kill you. Okay, maybe I’m being a bit over dramatic, but it’s true. Take the case of canned foods. There are a lot of myths about canning your own food at home that can make you and your family extremely sick or even kill you if you follow it.
I am here to set the record straight on 15 of those canning myths today. Canning is an awesome hobby and a great way to preserve food that would otherwise go to waste. Serving your family food that you grew and preserved yourself is extremely satisfying. Just make sure you are doing it right so you don’t end up serving them their last meal.
If It’s Canned in the Store You Can “Can” It At Home
This is not true. One example that comes to mind is New England Clam Chowder. I love the creamy texture of this soup but it is not okay to try to can it at home. The main reason here is this recipe contains dairy. Dairy should never be canned at home. There are too many fats that like to hang on to bacteria and the bad guys that will make you sick. Just stay away from them. Another example is Salsa. Salsa uses a mixture of high acid foods with low acid foods. When you mix the two, the canning process needs to change. You can no longer just use a water bath as a preservation method. For more information on canning salsa, take a look at this article on prolongtheharvest.com
So how do they can these things and sell them in the stores?
First of all, the big canning companies have access to food laboratories where food scientists do nothing but test and tweak recipes all day to make them safe for canning. The second reason is the equipment and processes these companies have to can their recipes. They are able to get the temperatures much higher than you can at home and that kills off more of the bacteria that will make you sick.
You Can Can Vegetables Using a Simple Water Bath
I know your grandma probably canned her carrots and peas using a water bath. And I know she was probably never sick a day in her life. Well, times have changed. Research shows low acid foods need to be canned at higher temperature to kill all of the illness-causing bacteria. Boiling water will never get hotter than 212 Fahrenheit. I don’t care if you boil it for a fortnight. It will never get to 213 That is just not hot enough. Grandma probably made it through because she boiled the living hell out of those vegetables after she dumped them out of the can. That would have killed any lingering baddies and made for some mushy carrots that had no nutritional value by the time they were placed on the table.
Oven Canning is an Acceptable Alternative to Water Bath or Pressure Canning
No. Canning jars are not made for oven canning. The heat in the oven is a dry heat and does not penetrate as thoroughly or as quickly as liquid. The added time in the heat could cause your jars to explode. Oven temperatures also vary greatly depending on the oven and the thermostat, so getting an accurate temperature is very difficult. This means that there could be some nasty bacteria that hides out in your jars just waiting for you to unleash it on your family at dinner three months from now. Canning in the oven is risky at best.
A Seal is a Seal
Just because your jar sealed, doesn’t mean it is sealed properly. You may have heard the ping and the button in the center may be down but that doesn’t mean it is sealed properly. To get the correct seal, you should use a water bath method of canning for high acid foods like jams, jellies and pickles and Pressure canning for low acid foods such as vegetables and meats. Using techniques like, inversion or flip canning does not build enough pressure to seal your jars properly. To test for a perfect seal you should:
- Check to make sure the button is down in the middle of the lid. It should not move when pressed firmly in the center
- Tap the top of the lid. If it is a high, tinny, “pinging” sound, it is sealed properly. If you get a low dull thump, You may have a problem.
- Take the ring off of the jar (it needs to be off for proper storage anyway) Lift the jar and its contents by the lid alone. If you have a solid seal, This will not be a problem. If you don’t, you may have a mess to clean up, but at least you won’t have botulism.
Just Scrape the Mold Off of the Jam/Jelly and Eat the Rest.
Do you believe this used to be a common practice? Yuck. Just. Yuck. First of all, it’s mold. If I see a speck of mold on one slice of bread, I throw the entire loaf away. Mold is disgusting. Mold will also lower the PH level in your jelly. A lower PH allows the little nasties to grow and take over. Before you know it, you are puking up your English muffin. Just trash it and open another jar of jelly.
Canning is Dangerous
I’m not sure what this myth relates to. Are they saying it is dangerous from the standpoint of illnesses caused by improper canning methods? Or are they talking about the physical dangers that would arise from improper use of a pressure canner. Either way, they could be right. And they could be wrong. Not following the established guidelines for canning and improper use of your equipment could cause dangerous conditions. I found a picture of a pressure cooker explosion on Reddit. Not pretty. But if you play by the rules, follow the directions, and don’t take shortcuts, canning is perfectly safe. There are many resources available like the Penn State Extension if you have questions about proper canning techniques. There is no reason to consider it dangerous.
Butter is Totally Safe to Can
No. Butter should not be canned and stored at room temperature. Butter is a low acid food and high in fat. In order to can butter, it would have to be done in a pressure canner. This is because butter is a low acid food and low acid foods support the growth of the botulism bacteria. That’s fine, but the second part of the equation is that butter is a high fat food. Fats act as insulators for bacteria like botulism. therefore, the temperatures would have to be much higher than you could achieve from home canning.
The instructions you see on the internet for canning butter is basically putting lids on melted butter and then letting it reharden. The heat inside the jar will form a light seal on the jar, but should never be stored at room temperature. Butter is readily available. at grocery stores. Don’t risk your health.
Canning Lids Contain BPA
This was once true. BPA is short for bisphenol A. BPA is a chemical used to make a lot of plastics that food is stored in. There has been some research that shows BPA can seep from plastic into the food it contains over time. The problem here is that exposure to BPA can cause health issues relating to the brain, and prostate. Fetuses, infants and children are especially susceptible. Pretty scarry stuff. And the truth is that in the past canning lids DID contain BPA in the epoxy used for the liner. As of the fall of 2013, Ball began to produce BPA free lids. In 2017, Ball brands introduced a new line of lids to replace all Ball and Kerr lids. These new lids are BPA free. So, if BPA is a concern, you don’t have to worry if you have new lids.
Store Your Jars With the Rings On
This is not a good idea. The rings are designed to keep the lid in place during the canning process. Once the seal forms between the lid and the jar, the ring should be removed. If you leave the rings on your jars while they are in storage you could end up sick. Lets say you can some carrots. You put them into the pantry with the ring on the jar. Thanksgiving morning, you grab that jar from the shelf and open it. You heard the pop as the seal released. Everything is cool, right? Maybe. Maybe not. there is a possibility that while that jar was in storage, the seal released. Because the ring was on the jar, the lid couldn’t move so when the conditions that caused the seal to fail returned to normal, the lid resealed after allowing all kinds of little nasties in the jar in the meantime. Take the rings off.
There’s No Need to Boil or Simmer Lids.
This is true. Lids should never be boiled anyway, but you can skip the simmering process as well. The only preparation required for lids prior to canning is washing them in warm soapy water and allowing them to dry at room temperature until they are ready to use. The notion that lids need to be simmered is old school. Prior to 1969, the seals of canning lids contained latex. The latex needed to be heated to form the seal. After 1969, latex was replaced with plastisol eliminating the need for simmering. As far as sterilization goes, they get sterilized during canning.
Just Flip the Jars Over After You Fill Them
This is inversion canning. Also known as flip canning or open kettle canning, this process is not safe for long term food storage. The way this works, you just fill sterilized jars with your hot jelly or other food stuff, put the lid and the ring on and flip the jar upside down for a few minutes before flipping it back over to cool. The jars seal. All is good, right? As we discussed earlier, wrong. Moreover, the food doesn’t reach a temperature hot enough to kill all of the micro-beasties that cause bad things to happen to good people.
Now, take the people who are half informed who have read that you don’t need to sterilize your jars for canning, and you have a recipe for disaster. It is true that you do not need to sterilize your jars for canning IF you are processing them in a water bath canner or a pressure canner. The heat from those processes is adequate to kill the crud inducing monsters that live on the glass. Not so in inversion canning.
There is No Danger in Canning Your Own Recipe
Wrongo. Canning your own recipe is dangerous. If you do not process the jars long enough, or mix acidic foods with non-acidic like salsa, there could be issues. Always follow tested recipes when canning. If you can make adjustments to the recipe, it will usually tell you, like adding spices to taste. If you have a favorite recipe that you just HAVE to preserve, I would recommend freezing it. You don’t ruin the flavor with the heat and you don’t risk illness from an incorrect canning process.
Always Sterilize Your Canning Jars and Lids
If you are actually processing your canned goods in a pressure canner or a water bath, sterilizing jars and lids is not necessary. That isn’t to say that you don’t have to do it. You can if you want even more piece of mind, but the truth is, the temperatures reached in the processing kill the bacteria effectively. You should still wash your jars and lids with warm soapy water before canning and rinse them thoroughly, but sterilizing by boiling or placing them in a hot oven until they are ready to use is an added step that can be safely avoided.
Paraffin Wax is an Excellent Sealer
I remember opening jars of grape jelly at my mother’s aunt Ruth’s house. They always had this “plug” of wax on top. For some reason I don’t remember her ever removing that wax. It seems to me that we just busted right through and got the jelly out from underneath without ever checking for mold or any funny growth on top.
Paraffin wax is flammable. It is used in candles. In order to use the wax in canning, it has to be heated to melting on the stove. A lot of people suffered injuries from wax burns in the old days and because it’s flammable, if it got too hot, the whole pot could burst into flames. On top of all that, Wax doesn’t even form a proper seal if it seals at all. Sure, grandma and aunt Ruth used it, but the probably had a lot of spoilage and unusable canned goods in the cupboard. This practice is right up there with inversion canning. Without any kind of heat processing, it just isn’t safe.
Just remember to follow the safety rules. Know what you are canning and the proper method of preserving it. Make sure you are following lab tested recipes. Leave the experimentation to the scientists. Lastly, when in doubt, throw it out.
I hope you found this list useful. If you disagree with me on any of the points above or have something further to add I welcome the feedback in the comments below. Thanks for reading.